The National Catholic Review

Sometimes I'm benumbed by many requests from charities that fill the snail mail or electronic mailboxes. Still other times I'm on the other side, trying to publicize a good cause so that some will be encouraged to help out in some manner. I suspect many readers of America have found themselves in similar positions. The behavioral and social sciences do include charitable giving under their aegis, and from the Stanford Graduate School of Business comes a study: "Should Charities Ask for Time Before Money?"

Writing in the "Journal of Consumer Research", the authors reported that asking persons for their time, not their money, is a better way to increase donations to a particular cause. Now, this study was not done in Catholic diocesan or parish setting, so the findings may not generalize (and you may have particular and even strong points of agreement or disagreement). Intriguingly, and maybe importantly, these researchers found that asking people to volunteer for a cause positively shifts the willingness to give both time and money:

"The reason, according to Jennifer Aaker of Stanford Graduate School of Business and Wendy Liu of UCLA, coauthors of the study, is that questions regarding time versus money stimulate different mindsets. When people are solicited for their time, they automatically think in terms of emotional meaning and fulfillment: Will volunteering for this charity make me happy? When tapped for money, they start thinking about the far more practical, boring, and sometimes painful matter of "economic utility": Will making a donation make a dent in my wallet?

"The time first approach therefore makes the emotional significance of what you're asking stand out, which stimulates positive feelings and an increased belief that volunteering would be linked to personal happiness. That emotional mindset ultimately leads to greater giving," explains Aaker, General Atlantic Partners Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

"In short, the new study suggests that asking for people's time connects them with the deep mission of the organization, which makes them more inspired to be involved in that endeavor in every way. Conversely, asking people for money may well cause them to disengage.

"Nonprofits, therefore, may want to create more differentiated ways to foster feelings of meaning in their donors," Aaker says. Also, she cautions, while providing stakeholders with metrics on where an organization's money is going can be useful, an overemphasis on dollars at the expense of emotional connectedness may actually turn off donors."
You may see this study as an example of the social sciences being used to manipulate others; if so, please comment below or be forewarned the next time someone asks you to give some of your time. Or, perhaps you are in charge of raising money for a parish or diocesan event and will have an "aha" moment and see a way to use these findings, of course for the greater good, and recognize that ancient phrase of "time, talent, and treasure" as being scientifically validated. All of this leads me to a final thought. Although this was not my original intention—I began to blog simply about an interesting topic—you might want to consider spending time with some of the retired priests and brothers at a Jesuit residence somewhere, especially during this Advent season. Enough said.


Janice Feng | 1/23/2011 - 11:01pm
Time spent cdefinitely creates a more meaningful connection between the charity and the donor than money spent.  Any tangible experience I have ever had with a non-profit or charity has made me become invested in their well-being. I would certainly be much more willing to give money to something I feel I am a part of rather than just any good cause. I feel that this knowledge is common sense to me, so I am looking at "Should charities ask for time before money" in a different light. I believe there's a good possibility that by literally just asking for a person to donate time before they ask for a donation of money makes that person more willing to donate money. An organization who takes time to create volunteer opportunities seems to me to be more interested in sharing their mission with others than the organization who just wants to succeed in meeting their goals. Whenever I find a non-profit I am interested in, I look to see if there is a chance for me to volunteer and/or get involved. A charity who only sees the public as monetary donors loses favor in my eyes.
Marie Rehbein | 11/29/2010 - 4:34pm
As a mother of four, I am required to volunteer many hours a year in addition to providing funding for the various organizations and milestone events pertaining to my children.  This started the week my oldest started pre-school over sixteen years ago, and it shows no signs of letting up, since my youngest is only twelve.  School, dance, band, sports, choir, First Communion, Confirmation, church youth group, and the children's own service hour requirements have me, as a parent, engaged to a degree that had no precedent in my own growing up years.  It seems that others may have beaten the Stanford School of Business to its insight on the matter of charitable giving.
we vnornm | 11/29/2010 - 1:01pm
I believe that the IRS had or has some kind of provision for this, used to be something like 12 cents a mile, just for getting there and back, but as all the disclaimers say "see your individual tax advisor." :-) :-) :-)
Anonymous | 11/29/2010 - 12:48pm
As a humorous aside, I wonder if the Federal or State Government will let me volunteer instead of paying my taxes.  I bet we would have a line that is miles long waiting for that opportunity.  My wife and I and a couple friends can replace one of those bureaucrats and wipe away all our federal taxes for the year.
we vnornm | 11/29/2010 - 12:46pm
Thanks for your as-usual excellent thought and you have maybe helped put something into words for me.

One of my reasons for wanting to write the "psychology" related columns, usually Wednesdays, is to bring a greater awareness of mental health needs to everyone in the church. Professional help and other modalities such as 12-step groups are excellent but there are many ways individuals in parishes can reach out to persons with depression, anxieties, special needs children and adults, etc. etc. etc.  So if an idea or two leads to someone "giving their time" to someone with a mental health need-again, enhancing, not substituting for the basic treatment, I feel i will have met one of my own personal goals for writing here.

In the midst of multi-tasking today I'm putting together something for Wednesday here on the growing mental health needs of students on campus-an unintended consequence of the rich services avaialble through PL 94-142 & IDEA but which stop at age I may be able to give an idea or two on Wednesday for giving meaningful "time" to a university or college....

Thanks again. bill
Anonymous | 11/29/2010 - 12:19pm
As a graduate of the Stanford School of Business, I spent more time reading this article than usual.  I routinely turn down requests from charities for money.  It is endless and I pick where I want my money to go.  Most of it goes to Catholic education at the high school and grade school level.  

I believe the concept of giving time is an excellent one and more in spirit with Social Justice than any political action I can think of.  It also disarms the person of the belief that the money is going for administrative or marketing efforts.  It is interesting how the charities could be local enough to use your time but if they are, it sounds like a great idea.

Let me illustrate a variation of this.  My high school is run by the Christian Brothers and they operate two grade schools in the Philadelphia area for disadvantaged children.  Each year I publicize each in emails to my classmates in order to get donations for the schools.  I do not know how successful this is but a few have now visited the schools and donating for each has gone up.  So it does not have to be volunteering your time, though these schools desperately need volunteers for tutoring the kids after school.  So add to the approach, visit our facilities and if you can help directly, great but I bet a lot will then donate.

Such an approach will not work on a University level since the human needs are not so evident and the approach for fundraising is much more emotionally involved as an alumni/alumnae.  I was recently at a reunion at Stanford and they are building a billion dollar facility for the business school.  A few of the graduates had the same sentiment and were directing their money to other areas.  By the way some of my classmates from Stanford have been very successful and have been very generous with their money in many places and not just to Stanford.
we vnornm | 11/30/2010 - 9:21am
Fr. Perry,

Thanks for bringing us to a philosophical level!  bill
we vnornm | 11/30/2010 - 9:16am

The "band" you mention is interesting. They really, really need the help...and people get coming back, year after year, even when not "required." There must be a special camaraderie, seeing young people develop talents & share them with others...what a wonderful experience for everyone. I suspect years from now you will look back w fondness on many of the activities.....bill
Marie Rehbein | 11/30/2010 - 8:30am

I used to think like you think, that volunteering involved doing something voluntarily.  However, I have learned that volunteering is the designation given to unpaid work.  While many places call the "required volunteering" service requirements, many other places just call it volunteering.  I think this is because the number of hours is specified, but the type of work is not.  People are generally free to choose from a variety of tasks that meet the requirements, or fill the needs of the organization, depending on how you look at it.  This is different from bartering in that there is nothing given in exchange.  I still pay tuition and fees in order for my children to participate in whatever it is.  To a large extent, I think the idea is to set a good example for the children and to create community, though the high school band says that it would be impossible to exist without the volunteering parents-there the parents continuing volunteering even after their children have graduated because it is a meaningful experience for them.

My son quit the National Honor Society because of its requirement to do volunteer work.  He, like you, also felt that this was semantically incoherent, and he felt that the entire thing was insincere in that it was intended to reflect well on oneself rather than to actually address some need.  Then there was also the difference of opinion on what constituted the work part of the volunteer work.  If it's fun, is it work? 

Of course, I have not read the study that you describe, but I have found that people like me are more strapped for time than money, and the question is often posed, "how much will it cost if I want to opt out?"-something that is often asked with reference to participation in fund raising activites also.  My first impression of a charity using this approach of asking for time before asking for money is that it is insincere.
we vnornm | 11/29/2010 - 8:31pm

That was a great movie and maybe I'll buy it now that it is out in DVD. It sure is an interesting question about where the fulcrum point lies when trying to figure out how much help and support must come (or be mandated) from the givernments, expected or encouraged from large organized charities (United Way, Catholic Charities, Jewish Board of Guardians, Lutheran Welfare League, etc. etc. etc.), and freely given from our hearts as we spontaneously encounter siutations we didn't think we'd be in or "systems" haven't yet got around to "systematizing." amdg, bill
we vnornm | 11/29/2010 - 8:26pm

Great to help those good groups in all possible ways. I like how the Nature Conservancy buys up tracts of land to keep these for all posterity. Three cheers!

Re: Cameron-to properly "supervise" volunteers, one surely must have to create another layer of bureaucracy? Hard to count on volunteers for "essential" or "critical" services as you need a certain level of accountability.

Happy Advent, bill
we vnornm | 11/29/2010 - 8:20pm

I'm going to answer you with a mixture of earnestness as well as tongue-in-cheek. To me it sounds like you are in a state of indentured servitude and you have my sympathies. As one who tries for precision in language, I've always thought volunteering was done freely (even if not quite the Mortimer Adler sense!). When something is required in return, a word like barter seems the better word, or as you put it, "service requirements." best, bill
JANICE JOHNSON | 11/29/2010 - 6:27pm
From my many years of volunteering and the many acts of help, support and kindness that my children receivaed from volunteers, I'd say that the Stanford researchers are definitely on to something.  There is an emotional satisfaction from actually working with people than can not be gotten from writing a check.  Special Olympics is a good example of an org that uses volunteers as their backbone.  Numerous times when I thanked a volunteer I received a similar answer relating to the deep satisfaction they felt.  Volunteers in S.O. also actively participate in funding efforts and I'm sure, seeing the needs of the athletes give of their money as well as time. 

Beyond the emotional satisfaction I think there is something more that engages volunteers....a human response coming from living out Natural Law.  Bill, in your review of the movie:  "Extraordinary Measures"  (America, 2-15-10) , you ask:  "Is there a common call to compassion inscribed in all of our hearts, a hardware that no software can change, which can be recognized by anyone in any human age?  What does natural law demand of us, especially in reagard to the care of children suffering from rare genetic disorders?"  Your question is specific but can be applied to all kinds of situations needing human compassion as you have pointed out numerous times.  Where should this compassionate support come from if not members of the church? 
Crystal Watson | 11/29/2010 - 5:31pm
I get a lot of requests or money, mostly from charities having to do with animals or the environment, like The Nature Conservancy or The Anti-Vivisection Society.  But some of them also ask for time, in a manner of speaking - some tell me of issues coming up in congress and ask me to email my representatives and tell them how I wish they would vote on certain bills.  I try to both send money and write the emails.

I think volunteering is good, but there are also good reasons to give money instead of time  - depending on what the charity is, many people may not have the expertise to be able to do the jobs requaired, and many charities need to use money to buy things, not activity.

This makes me think of Cameron's Big Society in the UK, where he wants to cut government spending to the poor and expects people to instead voluteer to take up the slack in social services.  I think that's not really a workable plan.
Francis Perry Azah | 11/30/2010 - 8:39am
It is true that time waits for no man. Every minutes, moments, time count in our lives and we need to value them. A second lost today cannot be found even in a thousand years. Therefore, whatever we do with the inadequate resources at our disposal should be within a time frame. For the charitable societies to demand time before their money is given out is in the right direction. I believe both the giver and the receiver will go a long way to benefit from whatever the money is used for. What one dollar would buy today, the same dollar cannot buy the same thing in the future because of inflation. Whether it is in the Church or outside the Church one needs to make judicious use of the available time and treasure with one’s talent for the good of humanity. Our time, treasure and talents are valuable tools that we must avail for the benefit of all. Today is for us, tomorrow is uncertain and hidden from mankind.